A Poem Of Bitter Repression Essay, Research Paper
Goblin Market, written by Christina Rossetti in 1859 has been discussed in the light of many opposing interpretations; these two are perhaps the most significant and frequently mentioned in critical essays. In this essay, I will look at the evidence supporting both claims and attempt also to determine whether they are ~ necessarily mutually exclusive. ~ When it was first published in 1862,Goblin Market was largely seen as a moral fable aimed at children. However, this single reading proved to be limited and inadequate with further study, especially in relation to Rossetti’s other works, published around the same time such as No, / Thank You, John (1860) and Up-Hill (1858), for example. It would be difficult to miss the feminist undertones in these two poems, and much of Rossetti’s other work. Whether her feminism is an expression of bitterness at her position in society or a more positive forward lookins fantasy and celebration is more difficult to ascertain, however.~’Whilst the latter poem begins in the very embittered sounding lines: Does the road wind up-hill all the way? Yes, to the very end. Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? From morn to night, my friend. (1-4) It concludes with the much more positive final verse: Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? Of labour you shall find the sum. Will there be beds for me and all who seek? Yea, beds for all who come. (13-16) ~ This much shorter poem is a good example of the more general tone of much of Rossetti’s work and of Goblin Market in particular. Especially at the beginning and~ indeed~throughout t~em we see many examples of powerful resentment and a derogatory attitude towards the goblins which, if we accept them as being representative of patriarchy in general, could be seen to apply to men as a group. The goblins’ fruit, which they are so desperate to get Laura and Lizzie to eat, is more than a metaphor for sexual experience, in my opinion it represents conventional heterosexual love relationships and marriage and the acceptance of one of the roles that society demands a woman must take.~The fruit is extremely, almost unbearably attractive,and seems to offer nothing but sweetness and pleasure. However, when it is tasted it immediately weakens the woman eating it and makes her mad for more; she becomes complicit in her own destruction. Eventually she will fade to a shadow of her former self, and all she will be able to think of will be satisfying her own overwhelming urge for more. There is undoubtedly a very sensual and sexual use of imagery in the descriptions of Laura eating the fruit: She sucked and sucked and sucked the more Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; She sucked until her lips were sore;(134-6) but Laura also seems to be suffering the worst effects of an obsessive love affair: (She) knew not was it night or day As she turned home alone. (139-40) Once she has tasted the heady delights of the fruit she is alone, like the woman in the warning given by Lizzie: Do you not remember Jeanie, How she met them in the moonlight, Took their gifts both choice and many,(147-9) but who eventually pined and pined away; sought them by night and day, Found them no more but dwindled and grew grey; Then fell with the first snow, While to this day no grass will grow Where she lies low: I planted daisies there a year ago That never blow.(l54-61) Whilst Jeanie can easily be seen to represent the typically Victorian image of the fallen woman who subsequently dies after her sin, there are also references to her consequent infertility (daisies on her grave fail to bloom.~ This is in my opinion a metaphor for an intellectual or artistic infertility brought about by her obsession rather than actual physical barrenness. Laura too shows that she is beginning to be besotted with the gifts of the goblin men when she recounts the wonders of the fruit she has eaten to Lizzie and refuses to pay heed to the warnings her sister offers. When she returns to the glen for more fruit and is unable to get any, it becomes clear that unless Lizzie acts quickly Laura will go the same way as Jeanie, who died for her obsession. Rossetti’s reservations about romantic love are more clearly~expressed in A Triad V (1856) where she describes three women, one of whom is ’shamed’ by love, one who marries into ’soulless’ love and another who pines and dies for her beloved. They are described as being: All on the threshold, yet all short of life.(14) ~ ~ The goblins, with their apparently tempting wares, are treated with disdain by Rossetti and with righteous distrust by Lizzie, the apparent heroine of the tale (the question of whether Lizzie is the heroine or not will be dealt with shortly.) The desultory descriptions of the goblins shows the bitter resentment Rossetti feels towards these men who wish to entice women into what she sees as self-destructive, negative and dependent roles. She describes them as beasts: One had a cat’s face, One whisked a tail, One tramped at a rat’s pace One crawled like a snail, (71-4) They are all slightly different but all share a bestial, very unsavoury nature ~They stand: Leering at each other, Brother with queer brother; Signalling each other, Brother with sly brother. (92-5) Male conspiracy is clearly being described here and their method of using ’sugar baited ~ rds’ to entice Laura is equally met with resentment. The author is clearly contemptuous of the little men as we see in lines 329-336 where they are depicted as: Puffing and blowing, Chuckling, clappin~, crowing, Clucking and gobbling, Mopping and mowing, Full of airs and graces, Pulling wry faces (333-8) when they believe Lizzie too to have capitulated. Perhaps the greatest degree of bitterness towards the goblins is reserved by the author until after Laura has tasted the fruit. When she is desperate for more the goblins are nowhere to be found. Once she has capitulated, she is no longer wanted. They no longer woo her; only Lizzie can hear their cries. Laura is thrown into despair: (Laura) gnashed her teeth for baulked desire, and wept As if her heart would break. (267-8) All Laura can think about is the fruit she can no longer get: She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees False waves in desert drouth With shades of leaf-crowned trees, And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze. (289-92) Her despair is like one spurned in love, she will no longer eat and becomes useless; she does no work on the farm and begins to waste away. She realises too late the mistake she has made and rues it: She gorged on bitterness without a name: Ah! fool, to choose such part Of soul consuming care! (510-12) Here Rossetti portrays the woman who has lost everything for love-her soul has been consumed. ~his is the danger facing women, in her opinion. They must choose either independence and self-respect,or dependence and loss of self. Some critics, such as Gilbert and Gubar, have suggested that the bitter repression is in fact embodied by Lizzie, reclaiming Laura for domesticity and taking her away from the freedom and creativity that they believe the goblins’ fruit represents. However, in light of the bitter descriptions of both the goblins (who, significantly, are all male) and the painful description of the sorrowful, soulless state of Laura after sampling their wares this would seem to be a rather limited reading of the poem in my opinion.~The fruit damages Laura, causes her to waste away and disrupts the running of the farm that seems to clearly represent female self-sufficiency and harmony. This is no ordinary domestic setting; the whole farm is run by the sisters with no interference from men-in fact they are not present at all, even at the end of the poem. Lizzie and the reclaimed Laura seem only to have daughters and although ‘now wives’ there is no mention of their husbands. Men are superfluous to their lives.~ They are certainly not longed for and the goblins’ fruit neither; it is seen as a dangerous addiction, it is surely not the freedom and independence that Gilbert and Gubar claim it is. In fact when Lizzie goes to the goblins to get more fruit for her dying sister but refuses to eat any herself she is met with the kind of abuse that women could expect (and often still can) when refusing the romantic advances of men: One called her proud, Cross-grained, uncivil; Their tones waxed loud, Their looks were evil. (394-7) and they eventually go on to try to force her to eat their wares by pushing them into her mouth and physically attacking her. This scene seems to closely resemble a rape, and whether we take it to represent an actual physical assault or the more widespread and intense pressure placed on women to conform matters not: Lizzie is clearly not refusing something which is desirable in the eyes of the author. This attitude towards men who won~t take no for an answer can be seen in Rossetti’s mocking No, Thank You,John (1859), where the female speaker of the poem is making it clear in what might well then have been considered very ~’ ,. unladylike tones that she is not interested in his repeated advances: Rise above Quibbles and shuffling off and on: Here’s friendship for you if you like; but love,- No, thank you, John. (29-32) The sisters are free before the goblins come along-the only domesticity is that which they choose and do for themselves. Rather than being returned to a situation of repression, when Laura is saved by Lizzie she is described in glorious terms as being: Like a caged thing freed, Or like a flying flag when armies run. (505-6) As a fantasy of feminine freedom and self-sufficiency Goblin Market is very powerful; Laura and Lizzie live alone, provide for all their own needs and are happy doing so: theirs is a picture of domestic bliss of the best kind. They have succeeded in creating a space outside patriarchy~ for themselves. Their world is completely free of any male influence and when the goblins appear chaos ensues-they are a threat to the harmony in which the sisters live. They appear to have been perfectly happy before the arrival of the goblin men and do not seem to have felt they lacked anything: Laura rose with Lizzie: Fetched in honey, milked the cows, Aired and set to rights the house, Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat, Cakes for dainty mouths to eat, (202-6) ~ The sisters are portrayed as being in harmony with nature: Wind sang to them lullaby, Lumbering owls forebore to fly, Not a bat flapped to and fro Round their rest: Cheek to cheek and breast to breast Locked together in one nest. (192-7) All they need is around them; they have no need of outside interference and do not even use money of which they have very little; the only thing Laura has to trade for the fruit is herself, her hair. This is significant as it is firstly symbolic of women’s lack of economic power and also important if we look at the biblical imagery of the poem: Laura loses her strength after cutting her hair like Samson but unlike him she has betrayed herself. In trading part of herself she loses all her power and independence: ” I have no copper in my purse, I have no silver either, And all my gold is on the furze That shakes in windy weather Above the rusty heather.” “You have much gold upon your head,” They answered all together: “Buy from us with a golden curl.” (118-25) They have no need of money until the goblin men come along and only then need it to protect themselves and obtain what~ Laura now must have. Food and accommodation are certainly not the only things that the sisters are self-sufficient in, however. They seem to be emotionally and spiritually replete and only the interference of the male goblins serves to disrupt this. The sisters plunge from an idyllic state to misery and danger once Laura has tasted the forbidden fruit, dr ~ing clear parallells with the biblical story of the Fall. Lizzie, however, does not have to join Laura like Adam must join Eve in the BibleV Through her strength she is able to save Laura and bring her back into the metaphorical Garden of Eden. Her willingness to sacrifice herself and go through danger and physical abuse to save her sister shows an immense degree of female solidarity which the author clearly believes to be essential if women are to gain power and strength in society and to live fulfilling lives. The rich sensual language and images used have led to suggestions that the sisters can also exist sexually without men. Some critics have seen Goblin Market as a lesbian text and it is not difficult to see why. Throughout the poem, there are descriptions of the sisters in terms of physical beauty: Laura reared her glossy head, (52) and Laura stretched her gleaming neck (81) and both sisters are physically very close: Golden head by golden head, Like two pigeons in one nest Folded in each other’s wings, They lay down in their curtained nest: (184-7) They are protecting each other from the evils of the world outside and can save each other from the soulless life the outside world has designated for them. Perhaps the most erotic moments in the text are after Lizzie has had her encounter with the goblins and she comes home covered in the juice of the forbidden fruit. Her invitations and Laura’s responses could easily be construed as very sexual in nature: Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, Goblin pulp and goblin dew. Eat me, drink me, love me; Laura make much of me: (467-72) and Laura responds equally passionately: She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.(492) Whether or not the text is lesbian, it is clear in my opinion that Laura is saved from the dreadful existence she faces by her close relationship with Lizzie; through her sacrifice she is able to be reborn and regain life from the death that awaited her because of her mistake. Through ~v/ their mutual self-sufficiency in every area of life they are able to live fulfilling, happy lives and through their solidarity they are able to help each other in times of trouble and despair. Like a foam topped waterspout Cast down headlong in the sea, She fell at last; Pleasure past and anguish past, Is it death or is it life? Life out of death. (519-24) Though they eventually become wives themselves, once again there is no mention of their husbands and the advice they give their children below would seem to indicate that they have only daughters. Feminine freedom and self-sufficiency are the fantasy of the author of Goblin Market and strength and female solidarity are seen as essential to achieving them: For there is no friend like a sister In calm or stormy weather; To cheer one on the tedious way, To fetch one if one goes astray, To lift one if one totters down, To strengthen whilst one stands. (561-6) Goblin Market is a celebration of female strength and solidarity and bitter repression seems to be what the goblins are offering any unwary young women who come along, rather than the state Laura and Lizzie live in. 1/’BIBLIOGRAPHY Gilbert, S. & Gubar, S. / The Madwoman in the Attic NeW York 1979) Rossetti, C / Goblin Market (1859) ~No, Thank You, John.~ (1860) A Triad (1856) Up-Hill (1858) All in Norton Anthology of English Literature, 6th Edition, Vol.2.
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